Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On A Short Break

I'll be back next week with new posts. I'm taking a little break for the holidays. Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The End of An Era – It Takes A Team

It is with sadness that I am passing on the news that the Women’s Sports Foundation has eliminated my position as director of the It Takes A Team initiative at the conclusion of my contract in the end of January. I have directed ITAT for five years and worked closely with it for three years before that. During that time, we have developed the best set of up-to-date online resources for addressing LGBT issues in high school and college athletics. It Takes A Team also developed collaborative relationships with 18 national education, advocacy and athletic organizations and produced a successful monthly eletter with over 3000 subscribers. We’ve worked with hundreds of coaches, student-athletes and athletic administrators across the U.S. to assist them in making sport teams safe and respectful for all athletes regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In the process we’ve distributed hundreds of our DVDs, posters, safe zone stickers and other educational materials to schools and individuals. I’m proud of what we have accomplished with minimal resources. The resources we have developed will still be available on the Women's Sports Foundation web site.

I want to thank everyone who has supported ITAT and worked with me to get ITAT resources into the hands of people who can make a difference in schools. I especially want to recognize the close and successful collaborations ITAT has enjoyed with the National Center for Lesbian Rights Sports Project and its director, Helen Carroll. Helen and I refer to ourselves as the Frick and Frack of homophobia in sport and often have joked that people in athletics could see me for education or see Helen for litigation. We love being a 1-2 punch against discrimination and ignorance in sport.

As I look to what’s next for me I can promise that I plan to stay in the game. That is, I have lots of energy and commitment to continuing my work on LGBT issues in sport. It Takes A Team will end, but my work on LGBT issues in sport will continue. I just need to identity what that work will look like in the future. For sure I plan to continue blogging so that will go on uninterrupted. I’ll have to keep you posted on the rest.

Finally, I want to wish everyone best wishes for this winter holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hannukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, Three King’s Day or just like to reflect on the end of the year, may you find peace, love, health and happiness. See you in the new year.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Amelie Mauresmo Retires

French pro tennis player, Amelie Mauresmo, retired last week. Amelie was one of several women professional tennis players to come out publicly as a lesbian. What set her coming out apart from the others is that she came out at the beginning of her career. Most professional athletes, men and women, come out in the twilight of their careers or after they have retired. She is one of the few professional athletes who has played most of her career as a publicly out lesbian. Downhill bike racer, Missy Giove, also comes to mind. Here is an article that provides a little more information than most about Amelie’s coming out as well as more information about her beyond her tennis records. She sounds like someone I’d like to sit down with and have a conversation over a good bottle of French wine. Best wishes, Amelie. We will miss you.

Lesbian Basketball Coach Wins Case

In October I gave an update on three pending lawsuits in women’s sports about discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation. One of these cases has now been decided and the lesbian coach who filed the lawsuit won.

Lorri Sulpizio, the women’s basketball coach at Mesa Community College in San Diego charged that she was fired in retaliation for her complaints about gender inequities in the athletic program at Mesa. She also alleged that she was fired because she is a lesbian. Lorri and her partner, Cathy Bass, who was the Head of Basketball Operations, were featured in a news story about lesbian families not long before they were both fired.

The jury awarded Sulpizio $28,000 which is the equivalent of her salary for one year finding that she was retaliated against for her advocacy of gender equity. The charges of discrimination based on sexual orientation were not upheld. The Title IX Blog has a good discussion of these results and has some thoughts on why this part of the lawsuit was not as strong.

Though the $28,000 seems like a small judgment compared to some of the recent awards at Fresno or Gulf Coast, this decision is another victory in a string of cases that clearly send the message that schools that retaliate against coaches who speak up about sex discrimination in sport will pay the price in bad publicity and financial payouts.

Congratulations to NCLR, who represented Sulpizio, for another great victory.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Thoughtful Reflection on Gender from Mechelle Voepel

Here is a thoughtful reflection (part 4 in a series of reflections on gender and sport) by sports writer extraordinaire, Mechelle Voepel. I recommend you read it. Nuff said.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Grace Under Pressure Indeed! Girl’s Ice Hockey Team Scores Goal Against Homophobia

I wrote about this high school girls ice hockey team in New Brunswick, Canada a few weeks ago. The Woodstock Thunder stood up against the homophobic reactions of some of their opponents when two teammates came out as gay. This article describes some of the homophobic reactions they got and their incredibly mature and courageous stand against anti-gay bigotry and for their lesbian teammates.

The Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport and Physical Activity presented the Thunder with its “Grace Under Pressure” award. This is a very prestigious award previously only given to Olympians. I can’t think of a more deserving group of athletes. These young women are an inspiration to teams everywhere about what concepts like “team” and “unity” really mean.

For men and women athletes and coaches, from high school to the pros who have negative reactions to having gay teammates or playing against gay players on the other team, read this and learn. Thanks to CAAWS for honoring these young women.

It does take a team to make sports welcoming for all and that is exactly what the Woodstock Thunder did. Congratulations!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Serena’s Fine Reflects Double Standard (Again)

After we found out that this summer that Wimbledon officials were assigning women players to centre court according to their sex appeal, we knew the double standard for men and women athletes was alive and well. Now, that double standard is confirmed in the report today that Serena Williams will be fined $82,500 for her US Open tirade against a line judge. She will also be on a two year probation during which, if she has another “major offense,” at a Grand Slam tournament, the fine would increase to $175,000 and she would be barred from the following U.S. Open. I agree that Williams’ outburst deserved to be punished. It was profane and unacceptable behavior.

However, it was no worse than the temper tantrums we tolerated repeatedly from John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. I recall profanity, abuse of officials, bird flipping, crotch grabbing and more from them. Were they ever fined? If they were, it certainly wasn’t a whopper like the one levied against Serena. Let’s see what could be the difference here? White men, Black woman. Could it be that, not only do we insist on our women athletes being sexy, we also demand that they be well behaved? Is a Black woman blowing up on court more threatening than a white woman? Would a white woman exhibiting similar behavior be fined equivalently? Would a black male player be fined more severely than a white male player?

We do know that white male tennis players can be butt ugly and still make the cover of Sports Illustrated if they are champions. They can be as rude and boorish as they like and we just chuckle (John McEnroe makes commercials now spoofing his ill tempered behavior on the court) or forgive their outbursts as fiery competitiveness reflective of a champion’s drive to win.

Maybe standards have changed. Maybe a current male player who had a blow up similar to the one by Serena would be fined as much. I don’t know. I just know we never leave our sexism or racism at the gym door or the entrance to center court. I don’t believe they were absent from the conference room when tennis officials decided on Serena’s punishment either. What do you think?

Brendan and Brian Burke: Thanks for Sharing

Why is Brendan Burke, son of Brian Burke, coming out as a gay man such a big deal? Well, Brian Burke is the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and we all know that ice hockey is one of the big four men’s pro sports (the other three are baseball, basketball and football) that is supposed to be so macho that they just have to be homophobic, right?

This story has gotten a lot of media coverage which is a good thing because it gives men in sports opportunities to talk about their reactions to this news and the hypothetical question that is always raised when we talk about gay men in sport: How would you feel about having a gay teammate? It is hypothetical only because no man playing a professional team sport has come out publicly yet. I believe the more athletes and coaches talk about having an out gay teammate the easier it will get for them to be comfortable actually having one. When some of these athletes respond to the big question in positive ways, the more it breaks the “rule” that, if you are a pro team sport athlete, you have to be hostile to the possibility of sharing your locker room with a gay man. I believe that the more athletes and coaches speak out positively, the easier it will be for gay athletes to make themselves known. I know there are still plenty of these big ole macho guys who are scaredy cats when it comes to the idea that the guy using the locker next to theirs might be gay, but times are slowly changing.

The most touching part of the Brendan Burke story is his father’s loving reaction. I guess it is a sign of how far we still have to go when it is a compelling news story that a father publicly affirms his love and admiration for his gay son, but there it is. We still expect macho men in sports to be homophobic. We are surprised when they aren’t. I am happy for Brendan that his father has been so publicly loving. Brian Burke commands a lot of respect in the ice hockey world and I am happy for the possibility that other macho men in sports might read about Brendan and Brian Burke and rethink their own fear and hostility about having a gay teammate or coach or family member. It’s a kind of education that can be as effective as a workshop if it invites more openness and comfort.

This story also reminded me of how terrifying it was to tell my mother that I was gay. I believe it is a fear only other gay people can understand and the reason seeing PFLAG moms and dads marching in pride marches still brings tears to my eyes. The fear of parental rejection or disappointment is a big deal, at least it was to me. I remember the mental rehearsal, the chickening out numerous times, the pounding heart and finally the blurt: “Mom, I have something to tell you.” The fear in her eyes about what I was to come following that. Then my announcement: “I’m gay.” Then her look of relief. “Oh, honey, your father and I knew this for years. We just want you to be happy.” I went out for my run that morning, stood on the front steps, smiled and took what felt like the first deep breath of my life. Nothing could stop me now. I wish the same feelings for Brendan Burke.

I know it doesn’t turn out as well for everyone. Sometimes it takes time for parents to adjust. Sometimes they never do. For most of us, coming out to our parents isn’t a public event. It happens in private and only we and they are affected. The great thing about Brendan and Brian Burke is that they have chosen to share this family event with all of us. I offer my thanks to both of them for sharing this moment and for giving the men’s sports world this opportunity to reflect on the homophobic culture that we have too long accepted as inevitable.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Intersex Athletes: Could We Have Some Science and Sanity, Please?

Could the international and national sport governing bodies, the international press, and, basically, anyone involved in the process surrounding Caster Semenya’s controversial world championship in the 800m run have screwed this up more? I don’t think so. Amid media leaks, secret “gender” tests, failure to follow their own rules, hysterical and sensationalistic news coverage and all around poor judgment, the fact remains that a young woman’s life has been turned upside down.

On Friday the IAAF announced that Caster will retain both her gold medal and her prize money, which is welcome news, but there is no word at all about whether or not this young woman will ever be allowed to compete again in women’s events. The IAAF also announced that the results of the “gender verification” tests performed on Caster Semenya will remain confidential. Never mind that reports of the results were all over the international press over a month ago with National Enquirer style headlines proclaiming her a “hermaphrodite.”

One good thing coming out of this mess is that the IOC is organizing an international “Gender Summit” in mid-January to review policies on “gender verification” and, I hope, come up with better policies for how such issues will be dealt with in the future. Let’s hope there are people at the table who can bring some science and sanity to this discussion. I fear the conversations are too late for Caster Semenya and that is the tragedy here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brian Sims: A Gay Football Player Speaks Out

Brian Sims was a college football player. He is gay. He was out to his teammates. He was a team leader. He had a positive experience. These are five sentences that, according to some people, we should not expect to see written in the same paragraph about the same man. It probably helps that he is also smart, good-looking, strong, tough and completely comfortable with who he is.

Nonetheless, Brian has decided to speak out about his experience in hopes of helping athletic departments, coaches and male athletes to think more critically about what it means to have a gay teammate and to help them rethink the knee jerk reaction of many football, basketball, baseball, ice hockey players and coaches: “A gay man just wouldn’t be accepted on our team.”

I have always thought that a star athlete or team leader who is gay is more likely to be accepted by teammates and coaches because he has “proven” himself (read: he doesn’t act like everyone expects a gay guy to act). We will truly have turned the corner on homophobia in sport when the guy at the end of the bench who doesn’t log a lot of playing time and is not seen as a team leader gets the same acceptance and respect as a gay star. It is still a good thing though when a man like Brian Sims speaks out because he does defy those lingering stereotypes of gay male athletes that some straight athletes harbor. A little dissonance is a good thing.

It’s also true that sometimes, football players (and other male athletes) need to hear from football players. Brian Sims has some credibility with that group that someone else, say a middle-aged lesbian whose only football experience was as a ten year old playing tackle in the front yard with her boy buddies in the 1950’s, doesn’t have. Thanks to Brian for speaking out. We need all the different voices we can muster to raise a lusty chorus for harmony and social justice in sport. Ok, that last sentence was over the top, but you get my drift.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Unfair Competitive Advantage: What’s It All About, Aimee?

I just read this article written by Aimee Mullins, an accomplished track athlete and former President of the Women’s Sports Foundation, who runs with two woven carbon fiber Cheetah Legs. Her article is a dissection and refutation of “unfair competitive edge” arguments used against athletes with disabilities who want to compete against athletes who do not have disabilities.

Mullins sums up her argument:

“The crux of that question lays under the umbrella of ethics, which should indeed govern our rule structure within the competitive arena, but there's something in this story which specifically points toward a deep-seated fear, one we don't want to talk about in polite conversation, one which parallels historical instances of racial integration of sport and gender integration of sport. If we allow a person, one who we view as our inferior (in whatever way), to play with us, and then that person beats us, what does that say about us?”

Mullins makes the point that sport is based on gaining an advantage and asks the question, how do we separate gaining an advantage within the bounds of the rules we have agreed to in a sport and gaining an “unfair” advantage. And I would add, who gets to decide which is which? Few people would agree that all athletes who enter a contest have an equal chance to win. Each one has advantages and disadvantages based on genetic gifts from their parents, training regimens, access to the coaching and state of the art sports equipment, access to clean air and good nutrition, discrimination, financial resources, mental toughness and on and on.

Mullins asks the question, why are her Cheetah Legs seen as an unfair advantage in a race with athletes who run on their own legs when we do not disqualify athletes based on these other advantages? Why do we suddenly get all concerned about a “level playing field” when we know there is no such thing?

Mullins’ article focuses on athletes with disabilities, but the argument can be applied to other situations where we fret about competitive equity too. When intersex or transgender athletes want to compete in women’s sports, similar concerns are raised about unfair competitive advantages. We wrestled with these questions at length at the Transgender Think Tank a few weeks ago. One of our guiding principles was to “preserve the integrity” of women’s sport as we discussed policies that would enable transgender athletes to compete in their preferred gender (most people’s concerns focus on transgender or intersex women competing in women’s sports, not transgender or intersex men competing in men’s sports though there are issues there as well).

When women competitors take the field, dive into the pool or run onto the court, the range of differences among them is wide. Competitive equity is a relative term. Using Aimee’s argument, how do we decide when a transgender or intersex woman has an unfair competitive advantage and why do we focus on her potential advantages when we do not worry about the advantages or disadvantages of the other women in the competition? It’s because we see these variations as normal. We expect them. I won because I am taller, stronger, more skilled, more determined, I worked harder. I deserved to win. Our challenge is to stretch our vision of what is normal to include competitors who have been excluded based on fears and prejudices or our desire to maintain a sense of superiority. Excluding athletes of color, women, lesbians and gay men, people with disabilities, transgender and intersex athletes have historically and still are too often based on these fears and prejudices. The similarities among the arguments used to justify this exclusion or limitation is surprisingly similar regardless of the group being targeted.

Interesting connections, don’t you think?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Women’s Basketball Media Guides: Lipstick, Yes. Lesbians, No.

Here is a terrific article written by Jayda Evans for the Seattle Times about women’s college basketball media guides and a trend toward photo shoots that highlight the players’ femininity (code word for heterosexuality, in my opinion). The problem is that this is nothing new. Back in the late 80’s there were several media guide covers that featured players in sexy dresses and high heels or similar attire. The most offensive one was from, I believe, Southwest Louisiana that featured the women’s team dressed as Playboy bunnies in Playboy bunnyish poses. The copy read, “These girls can play, boy!” The arena was called the “pleasure palace.” Guess who they were marketing to.

This is just more of the same tired old “sell women’s sports as heterosexy and feminine” to ward off those unsavory associations with lesbians. Whether trying to market women’s sports to fans or appeal to potential recruits we just can’t seem to turn the corner on that fear and put it behind us. It keeps popping back up like that punching back guy with the weighted bottom. Punch him and he goes down, then rocks right back up. Punch him again… We need to move on, for the love of Pete (whoever he is).

Google “woman athlete” in images. See what you get. Yep, women athletes in sexy poses. Google “male athletes” or “athletes” and you get men playing sports. People, it’s almost 2010. The protective camouflage of feminine (heterosexual) drag didn’t work in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90’s or the first 10 years of the new millennium. What the hell makes anyone think it will work now?

New Flash, people! There are lesbians playing and coaching sports. Some of them win national championships and set world records. Some were the pioneers who fought for the rights of young women who enjoy playing sports today.

Plus, it is so simplistic to think that all lesbian athletes shun dresses, high heels and make-up or that all straight athletes can’t wait to put on their femwear as soon as they get off the court. It’s drag! And it has nothing to do with anything, except, of course, conforming to fantasies about what it means to be a man or woman, gay or straight.

What’s more frustrating is that we now have emerging research that indicates that the sexualizing or feminizing of women athletes to make women’s sports more palatable, popular or acceptable doesn’t work. A study by Mary Jo Kane at the University of Minnesota indicates that showing women athletes in sexy poses to young men only makes them want to see more sexy photos of the women. It does not make them want to rush out and buy season tickets to the nearest WNBA franchise. At the same time these sexy photos turn off other important fan constituencies: Older men, who are likely to be fathers of women athletes, and most women.

Another study recently completed by Vikki Krane at Bowling Green University indicates that young women, the recruiting targets that team media guides are aimed at, want to see women athletes playing their sports (duh!), not posing for a faux Playboy feature or a high school prom picture. These findings make it all the more depressing that the “new” trend in team media guides for college women’s basketball seems to be the same old same old.

We just can’t seem to take that bold step out of the closet it would take to be proud of ALL the women who play sports: the lesbians, the heterosexual women, the big women, the small women, the femmy ones and the butch ones. We keep apologizing for who we are. We keep compensating for our strength and athleticism and our muscles by pushing the pretty or sexy ones forward, as Marie Hart said back in the 1960’s. We keep posing in sexy or femmy costumes to disguise the reality of our diversity.

Maybe one thing that Elizabeth Lambert did for women’s sports is shock people into seeing that women athletes are tough and women’s sports are not tea parties anymore. Though I deplore the violence in that incident, at least it showed tough competitive women playing sport not primping for a date after the game. We could do with a lot more honesty in how we present women’s sport. If we never get that 18-35 male demographic into the stands, who cares? Let’s not sell our souls trying.

We keep talking about how the world has changed for women athletes, but if it has only become acceptable to be a feminine appearing heterosexual acting athlete than not that much has really changed at all.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Violence in Women’s Sports: Part of the Game, Transgressing Gender, or Sexy Catfight?

Video clips of Elizabeth Lambert, a soccer player from the University of New Mexico, putting the hurt on BYU players during a game over the weekend has attracted some serious attention from all corners of the sports and social media. Reactions to the video clips are fervent and widespread. If only people paid as much attention to women’s sports on a day to day basis. Has there been this much reaction to women’s soccer since Brandy Chastain ripped off her jersey to celebrate winning the World Cup in 1999?

First, I have to say, Elizabeth Lambert’s violence was over the top and I wonder where the refs, the coaches and her teammates were. She is being demonized and has been suspended from her team indefinitely, but only after the video went viral. She has apologized publicly and it actually felt like a real apology. I am not saying what she did was acceptable (especially that vicious ponytail jerk from behind), but she was not playing that game on her own. There were lots of other people there who bear some responsibility for letting things get out of hand. Where is the conversation about coaches and referees and what their responsibilities are?

I am as disturbed by some of the reactions to the video as I am by Lambert’s actions. If this had been a men’s game, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. The kind of physical, dirty play in the video is an accepted part of the game in men’s sports. Maybe the eye gouging incident at the University of Florida was a little over the top, but generally, we don’t even bother to comment on similar levels of outside the lines play in men’s sports. But when women engage in shady physical intimidation practices or a fistfight breaks out during a contest, all hell breaks loose. Some people want Lambert banned from ever playing soccer again. We have a clear double standard here for the violence in sport we are willing to accept.

The overblown reaction is based on so many sexism notions. First, there is the idea that women are the kinder, gentler sex who don’t (shouldn’t) engage in violence on the field or even rough physical play that falls within the bounds of acceptable standards. Women are supposed to be nice and fragile. In the male world of sport fandom the absence of violent collisions, elbows flying, jersey pulling and punching are just another reason to dis women’s sports as inferior. I’m not saying I love violence in sport. I’m just saying we should have the same standards for all sports whether it’s about expectations about tough physical play or intolerance for violent play.

Other reactions include people who are supporting Lambert for her aggressive play and claim, with some credibility, that rough play happens in women’s soccer all the time. Why has this incident provoked such an outcry? Is it just that there is this video montage all over the internet?

But here is where it gets creepy. When this kind of play does happen in women’s sport, it isn’t often hailed as evidence of women’s tough competitive play as it is for men. Instead it is sexualized as really hot, a turn on, a catfight. There is a titillation factor that makes me very uncomfortable. A little woman on woman action becomes a show for the purpose of gratifying men’s sexual interests. The competitiveness and athleticism of women athletes are eroticized and in the process women’s sports are trivialized. Read some of the comments on men’s sports blogs or news coverage of this.

I also see a lesbian subtext in these reactions. A staple part of pornographic material is woman on woman sex staged for the gratification of men. Are men who think two women fighting or women being violent with each other is hot and sexy treating the incident like woman on woman porn? Is that what this incident has tapped into? At the same time, the prospect of actual lesbians playing sports is framed as a complete turn off for the same male demographic. These are the guys who hate the WNBA with such a passion that it feels almost pathological.

I would like to think we can take this as a great opportunity to have a conversation about sexism in sport, violence in sport, heterosexism in sport. My fear is that the titillation factor will win the day and the “catfight crowd” will enjoy yet another moment of sexualizing and trivializing women athletes. I also worry that the only outcome will be that Elizabeth Lambert will be demonized and banned for her rough play without examining the deeper manifestations of sexism embedded in our response to this incident.

Monday, November 9, 2009

No Homo! No Dumbo!

I have resisted commenting on the term “no homo” because I think it is one of the most idiotic phrases ever, but I ultimately decided to comment after all (the blogging well must be dry this week). Don’t know about “no homo?” The phrase apparently originated in hip hop culture, not exactly known for its gay friendliness, and has been perpetuated in men’s professional sport culture and now more broadly in “man culture” it seems. You can find some pretty funny YouTube videos parodying the phrase.

Anyway, “no homo” is like an all-purpose disclaimer used by guys to exempt themselves from any association with gayness because of a previous statement or action. Confused? Here’s an example: A guy tells another guy, “Hey, man, love your new shirt…no homo.” Another example: A guy says to another guy, “Tom Brady is a cool dude…no homo.” One more: A guy hugs a male friend…then says, “No homo.”

I even read over at Outsports that some athletes are now tweeting a (pause) after statements they think require the “no homo” disclaimer instead of actually writing the words, “no homo. “ I guess this is to avoid being in Larry Johnson’s cleats.

It’s not exactly a big secret that the use of “faggot” and “homo,” as well as a lot of anti-women slurs, are an unfortunate but staple part of men’s locker room discourse. These words tumble easily from the mouths of too many athletes and coaches. Every now and then these words slip out in public places and require the athlete or coach who said it to issue a non-apology (sorry if I offended anyone) and gets a lot of media attention. A few months ago it was the University of Hawaii football coach. The last few weeks it’s been Kansas City Chiefs Larry Johnson. It will be someone else next week. It slips out of the locker room and becomes part of school and playground discourse too as the ultimate putdowns, fighting words, and bullying taunts. Out of the mouths of young, mostly boys, these words can become weapons that provoke fragile peers to suicide or murder. Think this is an exaggeration? Check here and here.

Last week minor league professional ice hockey player, Justin Bourne, wrote an editorial calling for an end to the use of anti-gay slurs in male sports locker rooms. It was a refreshing break from the ranks of silence among most male professional athletes about anything gay, unless it is to say something ignorant and negative (think Tim Hardaway). Bourne’s editorial followed the public advocacy for same-sex marriage by NFL players Brendon Ayanbadejo and Scott Fujita a few weeks ago. These public actions stand out for their unique stance against homophobia among male professional athletes. As far as I know Brendon, Scott and Justin Bourne are all straight and I respect that they did not feel the need to add “no homo” to their statements of support for gay rights and against gay slurs.

Unfortunately, I think that this fear does keep other athletes who privately agree with them silent. The threat of being called or perceived as..homo is still scary for these grown men. What does that say about heterosexual masculinity? Is it really that fragile that it must be protected and defended at all times? Is the “hetero man” pose so affected that one slip up – wearing the wrong color shirt, noticing another man’s attractiveness, hugging a friend – can call it into question and require a disclaimer – “no homo?” How profound is the fear of being cut out of the “man” herd?

I have an idea. Maybe we can propose a response to the use of the “no homo” disclaimer. Whenever you hear some guy say this, respond “no dumbo.” Be sure to have the appropriately disdainful expression on your face to accompany your comment. Try to convey the message, “Seriously, dude, are you THAT insecure?”

Oh, yeah, my apologies to any flying elephants who are offended by my suggestion.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A New Blog By A Transgender Athlete

I want to alert readers to a new blog that I think you will find interesting and informative. It is written by a transgender athlete. “Corbyn” is female-bodied and identifies as a man. He is not yet taking hormones and describes himself as “pre-surgery” because he wants to continue his sports career competing in women’s events. He competed on a women’s team in college and is continuing his sports career at the national elite level now.

The blog is a courageous personal statement from a perspective that has been long silenced in athletics. Corbyn is using the blog to share his experiences, both the triumphs and the frustrations, as a trans-identified athlete so that we all can learn more about the importance of developing sound and inclusive policies that enable transgender athletes to participate in sports.

We have a lot to learn from Corbyn and I am grateful that he is willing to share his experience with us. Check out his blog -

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Talking Trans: A Report from Inside the Tank

Sunday I flew into Indianapolis for the “Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student-Athletes” Think Tank that the Women’s Sports Foundation/It Takes A Team co-sponsored with the National Center for Lesbian Rights/Sports Project. Helen Carroll and I have been planning for the think tank for months and the day had finally arrived.

At the opening reception Sunday evening the 35 invited participants had a chance to mingle and meet before we began our intensive day of work on Monday morning. The participants were an impressive group of people invited for their expertise on and experience with transgender issues and/or their expertise in high school and intercollegiate athletics. Our goal was to finish the day with some concrete thoughts about effective and fair policy recommendations that we could make to high school and collegiate athletic leaders about including transgender athletes on school sports teams.

We began the day with several short overview presentations to give us all a grounding in the topic from some of our participants selected for their knowledge in the areas of medical issues, legal issues, transgender advocacy, drug testing policies in athletics, transgender youth, and a review of the excellent Canadian report “Promising Practices.”

We then moved into small groups each charged with reviewing one of the existing pioneering policies on transgender inclusion in sport looking for problems, positive aspects and fresh approaches that would apply in the interscholastic and intercollegiate setting. Group leaders reported highlights of these discussions back to the whole group.

Over lunch we focused on the experiences of trans-identified athletes. We had two participants who spoke of their experiences in college and national elite sport contexts. We also showed a short video, Helen and I prepared with four other trans-identified athletes talking about their experiences. This was a very moving part of the day. Hearing trans athletes talking about their experiences, disappointments, struggles and triumphs brought home the importance of this work in a way no theoretical discussion can.

After lunch we focused on taking the discussions from the morning to the next level which was to begin to identify policy components that we believed would meet our goal of being fair, practical and effective in the school sport context. I think we were a little concerned that this goal was too lofty or that our process might break down as we struggled to reach some consensus on what were the best ways forward on this challenging task. However, we were able to reach consensus on our recommendations on many important aspects of policy development. I did think my head would explode by the end of the day though with all the creativity, passion and excitement in the room.

It was quite exciting to participate in a group with so much knowledge and passion about this topic and so willing to share it for the common goal of making athletics a safer, more respectful , more inclusive place for all student-athletes. The energy in the room was high. We talked. We laughed and we listened. Most importantly, we made some progress. It was very satisfying. Helen and I are so grateful to all think tank participants for taking the time to join us in this important conversation. I know for myself, as a non-trans-identified woman, it was a great learning opportunity and I have expanded my network of colleagues whose expertise on transgender issues in athletics to include a terrific group of folks.

Now it is Helen’s and my task to synthesize our work from the think tank into a draft report to be reviewed by think tank participants. Ultimately, we plan to create a document that will include an overview of the issues, policy recommendations and best practice recommendations for high school and college athletic leaders, student-athletes, coaches and parents.

Did I say I love this work? How lucky can you be to have the honor of working with such dynamic and smart people on important issues of social justice in an area, sport, that you are passionate about? I am one lucky duck.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Forced Femininity = Heterosexual Drag = A High School Principal Still Living in the 1950’s

Ceara Sturgis is gay. Everyone in her school in Mississippi knows that. She is also an honor student, a trumpet player and the goalie on the school girls’ soccer team. Ceara wore a tuxedo for her yearbook picture. Once school officials found out, they said no, Ceara would have to retake the photo wearing the traditional drape that female students are forced to wear for yearbook photos. Only male students can wear a tuxedo. Now the ACLU is involved and insisting that Ceara has a right to wear a tux for her yearbook picture.

Ceara’s mother says the school is trying to force her daughter to be more feminine and that she doesn’t even own a dress. Her mother says, "The tux is who she is. She wears boys' clothes. She's athletic. She's gay. She's not feminine." Ceara says, "I feel like I'm not important, that the school is dismissing who I am as a gay student and that they don't even care about me. All I want is to be able to be me, and to be included in the yearbook."

There was a day in the not too distant past when women and men could be arrested if they were caught by the police not wearing at least three articles of clothing deemed “appropriate” to their sex. This happened in large metropolitan areas like New York City and San Francisco in the 1950’s. Apparently the principal of Ceara’s school in Mississippi did not get the memo that, 60 years later, most of us understand the right to freedom of expression.

You should see my high school graduation picture, the one that appeared in my high school yearbook. I did not have the sense of self that Ceara does. Though I too knew I was gay then, I submitted to the traditional picture required for girls when I would have loved to have posed in a tux. That would have been the real me. If I had been able to wear a tux, I would not laugh at my high school picture every time I see it as I do now. The girl posing in that photo wasn’t me. She was who everyone else wanted her to be. I lost a lot of time trying to fit into that girly hetero mold terrified of the truth I knew about me. Posing for that picture did not make me straight. It did not make me feminine. It just made everyone more comfortable.

You go, Ceara. I salute your courage and determination to be you. I salute your mother for supporting you. Thanks to the ACLU for reminding your principal that he doesn’t get to be the gender police and you don’t have wear three articles of “gender appropriate” clothes any more. I hope you play soccer in college. I want to root for your team.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where Are They Now? Lesbian Coaches, Athletes and Lawsuits

I was reflecting on three lawsuits I reported on in my blog over the last year and wondering what the status of each one is. So, I googled around and here is what I found. If anyone else knows more about any of these lawsuits, I’d love to know what the latest updates are.

Jennifer Colli vs. Rhonda Rompola and Southern Methodist University

The Nutshell: Jennifer Colli was a player on the SMU women’s basketball team. Rhonda Rompola is the coach. In September, 2008 Colli filed a lawsuit against Rompola and the university claiming her scholarship was unfairly revoked after she complained to the AD that coach Rompola had an unusual interest in relationships among teammates and hypocritically condemned them since it was common knowledge that Rompola had a previous relationship with one of her women assistant coaches. Several players on the team backed up Colli’s allegations. An internal investigation found no wrong doing and backed coach Rompola. Rompola is now married to the former coach of the SMU men’s basketball team who now coaches the team at UNC- Greensboro making for a long commute to see his wife (Makes you go hmmmmm).

The Update: I could not find any more information about the status of this lawsuit. We know Rompola is still coaching at SMU. Jennifer Colli is in LA pursuing a modeling career From the photos on these linked web sites, it seems that Jennifer, who identified herself as a lesbian and acknowledged having a relationship with a teammate while at SMU, is pretty focused on her modeling career these days and presenting herself as a Danica Patrick wannabe in the photo shoots posted on the internet.

An interesting tidbit I uncovered while trying to get an update on this situation – In 1982 People Magazine reported that Nancy Lieberman, Martina Navratilova and Rhonda Rompola (then a star player at SMU) were roommates. For those of you too young to remember, this was the time when Nancy Lieberman held a press conference to announce that she was straight that and she and Martina were not in a relationship. She later fessed up in her book Lady Magic.

Brooke Heike vs. Sue Guevara and Central Michigan University

The Nutshell: In February, 2009 CMU basketball player, Brooke Heike sued Coach Sue Guevara and CMU claiming that she was benched and her scholarship was revoked because she was NOT a lesbian. Heike claimed that her coach told her she wore too much make-up and that she was not “her type” which Heike interpreted to mean not a lesbian. Coach Guevara and the university claim that Heike lost her scholarship because of her attitude and unwillingness to work hard on improving aspects of her game that she was repeatedly given feedback on. An appeals panel upheld the decision to revoke Heike’s scholarship after hearing testimony from Heike and Guevara.

The update: Last month a federal judge dismissed key parts of the lawsuit by ruling that Coach Guevara and other university officials have immunity from such legal claims in their official capacity. The judge did not rule on the merits of Heike’s lawsuit. Heike’s lawyer announced that they would be filing a state lawsuit to get around the ruling at the federal level. She also held out the option of pursuing the case federally by going after Guevara and the athletic director in “their personal capacities.” I’m not sure I understand any of these rulings, but it seems that at least one lawsuit of some kind is alive and well in the eyes of Heike and her attorney. Sue Guevara held her first basketball practice of the season and is excited about the team according to an article posted on the CMU web site. Brooke Heike is still a student at CMU.

Sulpizio & Bass vs. San Diego Mesa College

The nutshell: Lori Sulpizio was the women’s basketball coach at Mesa College. Cathy Bass, her domestic partner, was Director of Basketball Operations. Despite a successful eight year coaching career at Mesa, Sulpizio and Bass were fired at the end of the 2007 academic year. Their dismissal came after Sulpizio had advocated strongly for equal treatment of women athletes at the school and after a local publication identified Sulpizio and Bass as domestic partners with three children. Sulpizio and Bass filed a lawsuit charging Mesa with discrimination, harassment and retaliation. In September, 2008, the United States Office of Civil Rights found that there were substantial inequities in the treatment of male and female athletes at Mesa College which constituted a violation of Title IX.

The Update: This case is set to go trial by jury in San Diego Superior Court in two weeks. I plan on posting updates on this trial on my blog as the trial progresses. That is assuming that the case is not settled out of court in the next two weeks. Sulpizio is coaching at another school in the same conference as Mesa College and Bass is the Director of Basketball Operations.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

GLAD To Be Working Together

The Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders
(GLAD) is a New England-based legal rights organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status and gender identity and expression. They were one of the driving forces behind successful efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont in addition to addressing a broad range of other discrimination issues. GLAD is now interested in taking on homophobia and transphobia in sport.

As a first step, GLAD is conducting an online survey of the experiences of LGBT coaches and athletes. They describe the project as “collecting the stories of LGBT athletes, coaches and allies who can shed light on the challenges and barriers homophobia and transphobia present. We’re also interested in your success stories and positive experiences.”

Last week I was part of a phone conference with Ben Klein, Jennifer Levi and Jamal Brown from GLAD, Helen Carroll of the NCLR Sports Project and Ted Rybka of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Sports Media Project (You might recognize Jamal as an out track athlete from Dartmouth College who is also part of Jeff Sheng’s Fearless Photography Exhibit of LGBT high school and college athletes). Our conversation focused on how each of our organizations addresses LGBT issues and discrimination in sport based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We also talked about how we can collaborate with each other to extend our influence and effectiveness.

It is exciting to welcome another major LGBT rights organization to our on-going efforts to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in sport. You can help out by visiting their web site and completing their survey. Whether you are LGBT coach or athlete or a straight ally, if you have a story to tell, GLAD wants to hear it.

Welcome aboard, GLAD, It Takes A Team looks forward to working with you!

Monday, October 5, 2009

When Professional Football Players Speak Out In Support of Marriage Equality

Baltimore Ravens linebacker, Brendon Ayanbadejo, wrote an article in the Huffington Post in April expressing his support for marriage equality for same-sex couples… Say what? That’s right, an NFL player speaking out publicly in support of gay marriage. His outspokenness is notable for several reasons.

NFL players rarely get engaged in public conversations about public policy issues of any kind, especially controversial ones, most especially ones that are related to support of LGBT issues. The more typical portraits of an NFL player is calling an opponent, reporter, or a teammate a “faggot” or expressing his belief that a gay man could be a drag (no pun intended) on team unity and locker room solidarity.

It’s true that more male professional sports coaches and players have spoken up in the last few years to say that having a gay teammate wouldn’t be a big deal to them. But it’s also true that others have spoken up to share their discomfort or hostility with this possibility. Think Tim Hardaway, LeBron James or Jeremy Shockey. It is also true that there has never been an openly gay professional football, baseball, basketball or ice hockey player. We know there are gay professional athletes, but so far, we never find out until after they retire.

So what are we to make of Brendon Ayanbadejo’s comments? They weren’t in response to some reporter’s question either. He initiated the article in the Huffington Post and also sent it to teammates and coaches. That’s way more significant than being ambushed in the locker room by a reporter’s unexpected question.

Here’s what I think – Brendon represents a new breed of male professional team sport athlete. His generation went to high schools in which GSA’s were part of the school’s extracurricular options. They had gay teachers (and maybe coaches too) and knew gay classmates. They see gay characters on TV. They know about openly gay politicians, entertainers, even retired gay professional athletes. They are exposed to the public discussion about gay issues – Marriage Equality, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Non-Discrimination Legislation, Hate Crimes. National polls tell us that young people are much more supportive of equality for LGBT people than older generations. Why would we expect that young football players would not be part of this trend too?

Ok, so “football culture” and male professional team sport culture are still pretty macho, misogynist and homophobic. The Brendon Ayanbadejos of the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL are probably in the minority, but they are there and they are beginning to speak up.

It’s also a lesson in challenging our own stereotypes, in this case, of football players. I once did a “homophobia” workshop with a group of coaches and in the back sat this big guy wearing a football polo shirt. He was quiet, sat with his massive arms folded across his chest for the whole workshop, his face impassive. In my mind I relegated him to the ranks of “typical” football coaches and mentally prepared myself for his challenge to the message I was trying to communicate. I expected him to stand up at some point and give a speech about how there were no “fags” in football and that’s way it should be.

Well, he did raise his hand toward the end of the workshop. I invited him to speak (preparing myself for the anticipated attack). Here is the gist of what he said, “I have a gay brother. I’ve seen him take a lot of crap from ignorant people and I can tell you, he is the toughest, most courageous man I know. I’d be honored to have him on my team. He could teach my guys something about integrity and courage. And if I ever hear any player on my team call someone a “fag” or laugh at gay people, I am in their face because they are talking about my brother and they need to learn some respect. I just won’t have it. What you are doing is great. I hope everyone here is listening.” So much for my own stereotypes. I know there are more football players out there like Brendon Ayanbadejo and the coach in that workshop. I hope we hear more from them as time goes on.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student-Athletes

On October 25-26 in Indianapolis, The Women’s Sports Foundation initiative, It Takes A Team will be partnering with the Sports Project of the National Center for Lesbian Rights to host a national think tank entitled, “Equal Opportunities for Transgender Student-Athletes”. Helen Carroll, director of the Sports Project and I have been working for the past several months on this collaborative project. We’ve invited 35 participants from across the U.S. whose legal, medical or athletic knowledge and perspectives will inform a discussion about effective, respectful and fair policy recommendations and guidelines for the inclusion of transgender, genderqueer and gender variant young people in collegiate and high school athletic programs. Think tank participants represent a broad range of transgender and non-transgender professional and personal expertise related to transgender and gender variant experience. The WSF and NCLR will issue a joint report following the think tank which will include policy recommendations and guidelines for athletic administrators, coaches, parents and student-athletes.

Some sport governing organizations have developed pioneering policies aimed at providing guidance for decision-making about the inclusion of transsexual and transgender athletes who have completed a transition process. The International Olympic Committee, the Federation of Gay Games, the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association (sponsors of the Outgames) are examples of organizations that have developed policy at the international level. USA Track and Field, the United States Golf Association and USA Rugby have also developed policies modeled largely on the IOC policy. The Washington State Interscholastic Association, which governs high school athletics in that state, is the only high school organization that has developed a policy that addresses gender identity and sports participation.

I call these efforts pioneering because, as is often the case with pioneering efforts, some are flawed in some ways and, with the exception of the WIAA policy, each is focused on the inclusion of adult transgender athletes who have no eligibility limitations on their ability to participate in their sports as is the case with collegiate or high school athletes.

Our goal in the think tank is to address, not only the participation of athletes who have completed a transition or who are in the process of transitioning, but also athletes who are not undergoing a transition but whose gender identity and expression do not conform to typical expectations. We plan to discuss overall inclusion of transgender athletes as well as the day-today issues such as locker room and toilet access, hotel room sharing, language use, and education of athletic staff and athletes.

This is a topic fraught with much misunderstanding and prejudice as well as concern for competitive fairness to all athletes and I’m excited that the think tank report might be able to offer some guidance on sound policy recommendations based on the best thinking of a gathering of people who, collectively, bring to the table legal, medical, practical and experiential knowledge about transgender issues and an understanding of the world of high school and collegiate athletics.

I know I, as a non-trans-identified woman whose gender expression is a little queer, am continuing to learn about trans issues in sport so that I can be an effective advocate for good policy that enables all young people to participate in sport regardless of their gender identity or expression. I expect to learn a lot at the end of October.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New Brunswick Girls’ Ice Hockey Team Says No to Homophobia

Here is a great story about a high school girls’ ice hockey team in New Brunswick, Canada. Two members of the team came out as lesbians to the rest of the team. The team supported them. However, as word spread around the league, the team received taunts on Facebook and harassment in the rink. One team taunted them and refused to shake hands at the end of the game.

Now, this is the place where things can start to go wrong in so many cases. Sometimes the non-lesbian members of a team get defensive and uncomfortable. They start to resent their gay teammates for “causing the problem” and attracting negative attention to the team. They don’t want anyone to think they are gay by association. They get caught up worrying about stereotypes of women athletes. They might make a point of talking about boyfriends or change their appearance to accentuate their feminine appearance off the ice. They might even start hurling anti-gay insults back at their opponents during matches.

The New Brunswick team, however, took a different tack. They did not respond to the taunting with insults of their own. They went to their school GSA and asked for support. The GSA came to matches and supported their team, gay and straight. The whole team began wearing rainbow patches on their uniforms with “No Homophobia” printed on them as a show of solidarity and support. As a result of their actions, new conversations about homophobia in the league opened up. Another team asked for some rainbow patches to wear also. As people began hearing about the New Brunswick team and their actions, the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission decided to present them with a Human Rights Award. Now doesn’t this make you feel good?

This is such a powerful story of a group of high school young women who said no to homophobia and yes to inclusion and respect. I am honored to add my thanks and congratulations to the New Brunswick girls’ ice hockey team. They are great role models for other teams who have experienced similar anti-gay taunting and harassment for how to respond with an impressive show of solidarity, commitment and refusal to be intimidated by hate, prejudice and fear.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

First We Are Born. The Rest Is All Drag.

I shoulda seen this coming. Caster Semenya, the South African gold medal runner whose gender is being challenged, has had a “make-over” and her new safely feminine look is on display on the cover of a South African magazine. The accompanying text gushes, “We turn SA’s power girl into a glamour girl - and she loves it! Wow! Look at Caster Now!”

Caster is quoted, "I'd like to dress up more often and wear dresses but I never get the chance.” This feels so fake given everything we have been told about Caster in the media. She also says, “I am who I am and I'm proud of myself." This feels like an actual quote from Caster. Does anyone else see the contradiction here?

Poor Caster. She appeared to be quite comfortable with how she was expressing her gender prior to all the controversy at the World Championships. Her family supported her. Her community supported her. Her country supported her. Baggy pants, short hair, muscular build, That was Caster: “I am who I am and I'm proud of myself."
Now, this. It feels so phony and, in hindsight, so predictable. What better way to prove she is a real woman than to get a new hairdo, apply some make-up and fingernail polish, and don a little black dress.

I am not criticizing Caster here. Who knows what I would do if I were an 18 year old young woman from South Africa who suddenly finds my gender questioned on an international stage and is then subjected to all kinds of invasive and embarrassing medical exams by a team of strange doctors to determine whether or not I qualify as a woman.

This photo shoot feels like another invasion to me. The message is the same: Who you are and how you express who you are is not ok. We need to fix you up so you will be more acceptable to us (and we can feel more comfortable with you). And, of course, sell a few magazines in the process.

As if the traditional trappings of femininity, white western trappings of femininity, had anything to do with Caster’s sex, gender, gender expression or sexuality. Quentin Crisp was right – First we are born, the rest is all drag. Why is that so scary?

Thanks to One Sport Voice, where I first read about this.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Contradictions and Connections: The Perils of Being A Strong Woman Athlete

Here is an interesting article that puts the “gender verification” challenge of South African runner, Caster Semenya, into a broader social context and discusses the outcry of support for her in South Africa in the context of nationalism, racism and aspirations to live up the South African constitution. South Africa’s constitutional protections based on sexuality and gender expression, as well as support for same-sex marriage, are among the most progressive in the world.

Despite a progressive constitution, old prejudices and privileges die hard and, at the same time that South Africans have rallied and embraced Caster Semenya, other women athletes who are openly lesbian and butch appearing have been raped and murdered for living their lives outside sexuality and gender norms.

Last spring Eudy Simelane, captain of the South African women’s football team (that’s soccer to Americans), was viciously attacked by a group of young men. She was gang-raped and beaten and stabbed 25 times in the face, chest and legs. Simelane was openly lesbian and butch in appearance. She was the most well known victim of what has come to be called “corrective rape”. The young rapists see their brutal violence as both punishment and cure for lesbianism and non-traditional gender expression and themselves as entitled to perform the “correction.”

The Triangle Project, a South African gay rights group, published research last year reporting that 10 cases of “corrective rape” are reported in South Africa every week and that 31 lesbians were reported murdered because of their sexual orientation since 1998, but only two cases have been tried with only one conviction.

This article includes a shocking video interview with some of the women who have been targeted by “corrective rape” and comments from some young South African men who believe in it. Be forewarned, the language is strong and the content is disturbing.

Gang rape and murder are used to punish women who challenge heterosexism, sexism and gender norms all over the world. It isn’t just South Africa. We haven’t come anywhere near the progressive stance on human rights in South Africa’s national constitution here in the United States and women whose sexuality and gender expression don’t fit heterosexist and feminine norms run the risk of violence and discrimination here too.

Sometimes the punishment isn’t as violent or extreme as gang rape or murder, but the “crime” of being a lesbian, an uppity woman or a butch looking woman (or heaven forbid all three) is also punished in more subtle ways too. It all grows from the same oppressive roots. Gang rape and murder are on one end of the continuum, disapproval, teasing and bullying are on the other.

It is a reminder that the tools of silence and intimidation can be as openly brutal as rape and murder or as quiet as a hateful text message received alone in the school cafeteria, but they both have the same intent: conform, back down, stay in your place.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Basketball Games as Religious Events: A Really Bad Marketing Plan?

While reading the Women’s Hoop Blog recently, I found my way to this thoughtful article in Full Court Press, the women’s basketball journal. The article, written by Lee Michaelson, publisher of Full Court Press, raises some really interesting questions about mixing sporting events and religion, WNBA marketing strategies, “promoting diversity and tolerance” and homophobia. It is a fairly long article, but I recommend that you read all of it.

The event sparking the article (pardon my terrible pun) was a Gospel Night sponsored by the LA Sparks as one of the many theme nights that WNBA teams have to entertain fans and highlight various events, groups and educational efforts. As part of Gospel Night in LA, gospel choirs sang at half-time and an evangelical Christian minister took the microphone to exhort fans to “put your hands together for Jesus” and “wave your hands in the air if you are a believer.” You can read the article for a more complete description and discussion of the event, but this abbreviated description provides the core issue for me.

While writing Strong Women, Deep Closets several years ago I attended a UMass Women’s basketball team exhibition game before the season started. They were playing a touring team from Athletes in Action. AIA is an evangelical Christian sports ministry. This is apparently a common practice for some men’s and women’s college teams. I had not experienced an event like this, however, and I remember being offended by the open proselytizing that occurred during half-time. The audience was invited by the AIA spokesperson to “accept Jesus,” A Christian testimonial was delivered by Nancy Lieberman, one of the players on the AIA team, and AIA informational brochures were distributed throughout the crowd. I was appalled and embarrassed that UMass would sponsor such a blatantly religious event. Partly because I knew of AIA’s position on homosexuality (it’s a sin and you can pray your way out of this deviant lifestyle choice), but the source of most of my discomfort came from the belief that this was an incredibly inappropriate event at a public education institution. What happened to the separation of religion and state? Who thought this was good for women’s basketball? Who approved this event? The incident spurred me to include an entire chapter devoted to the issue of evangelical Christian sport ministries and their relationship to homophobia in sports.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one was upset about turning the Mullins Center into a Christian revival meeting. After receiving complaints from me and others, the athletic department has never sponsored such an event again.
I find myself having the same feelings of discomfort, uneasiness and, yes, anger that some WNBA teams are also sponsoring religious events featuring only one variety of Christianity (evangelical) under the guise of “appreciation of diversity and tolerance?” Gospel Night is, first and foremost, a marketing strategy. I understand that, but is it smart marketing to risk alienating segments of your audience?

How could they not get that this could be, at the least, uncomfortable, and at the most, seriously offensive to non-Christians and Christians who just came to see a basketball game, not a religious celebration or who believe that the principle of separation of religion and state serves an important function in a country that believes in freedom of religion.

Then there is the whole gay angle. First, I am sure there may have been some gay Christians who enjoyed Gospel Night, but given the role that many evangelical Christian groups play in opposing civil rights for gay people, safe schools programs for LGBT students, and passage of hate crime legislation that includes sexual orientation or gender identity, for example, I bet there are many more gay people and heterosexual allies who are offended by events like Gospel Night.

Michaelson notes that some people are offended by WNBA marketing outreach to lesbian and gay fans, but makes the point that equating Gospel Night with marketing to gay fans is not analogous. Rarely does any WNBA team acknowledge gay fans in the arena and I don’t know of any team that sponsors an event during a game that “celebrates” lesbian and gay fans and their families. Most “outreach” to gay and lesbian fans takes place safely out of sight of other fans who might be offended – at pride events, in gay bars, on web sites, but in the arena during a game with an actual gay person holding a microphone asking fans to kiss your neighbor if you are gay – not so much.

OK, before someone thinks I am advocating that WNBA teams start sponsoring “Gay Kiss-In Night, I am not. I just think it is worth noting, as Lee Michaelson does way more articulately than I can, that some WNBA teams seem to be a lot more concerned about offending some fans than others. I wish the WNBA could hit on a successful marketing strategy that was based on a real principle of appreciating and respecting diversity that embraced all fans, Christian and non-Christian, gay and straight, black and white. We could all learn something and we could all feel happy to embrace differences if we are included in the definition of what is valued in a diverse fan base.

Friday, August 21, 2009

It's Baaaack! Sex Testing "Suspect" Women Athletes

Imagine that you are an 18 year old South African woman track runner. You just won a gold medal in the 800 meters and set a new world record doing it at the World Track and Field Championships. Cause for celebration and jubilation, right?

Unfortunately,Caster Semenya will not have the opportunity to enjoy her victory. Her performance has been overshadowed by accusations and disparaging comments questioning her sex. Because of Caster’s appearance, read as masculine by her detractors, and her speed, she smashed the world record, some of her competitors and other track officials are questioning whether Caster is a woman.
Following an earlier outstanding performance by Caster, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), suspected a doping violation, but tests on Semenya found no substantiation for that charge. So, now, the IAAF is looking into the possibility that Caster is not a woman.

Instead of celebrating her victory, Caster will be subjected to a series of humiliating and invasive“sex tests” by various medical doctors that could take weeks to determine if she will be allowed to keep her gold medal and her world record. She will be prodded, poked, visually examined, blood will be drawn, she will be scrutinized from head to toe, questioned and observed.

As if that were not humiliating enough, her privacy has been completely violated as the entire issue is now fodder for the world wide sports press and any idiot with a computer to comment on. Though the testing procedure is supposed to be confidential, the IAAF spokesman said that since the word had already leaked out, their choice was to lie or violate Semenya’s privacy and that it was “unfortunate” that this has happened. Ironically, the IAAF will not reveal the names of the competitors or team that filed the official complaint. Apparently, their privacy is more important than Semenya’s.

This sorry incident provides more evidence that the world of sport needs to come into the 21st Century with regard to sex, gender and sexuality. These social constructions are way more complicated and fluid than we are led to believe in our simplistic either/or world. Add sexism to the mix: how could a woman possibly run that fast, she must be a man! Add a little narrow-mindedness about gender expression: She’s too muscular, her hair is too short, her voice is too deep. Possibly add a little racism: would a European or American athlete be treated in the same disrespectful way without regard for her privacy? Heck, while we are at it, let’s also add some homophobia too. I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.

What a sad day. Caster Semenya won the race, but she lost the sex/gender game: She doesn’t look feminine enough and she is performed too well to be considered a “real” woman.

Here is a good commentary on this from Dave Zirin and Sherry Wolf in The Nation.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Taking A Moment For Mom

I’ve been missing in action blog-wise for a few weeks and I want to explain why: My mom died. Since August 2 when she passed, I’ve been to MD for her memorial service and to CA to visit family there. No time or inclination to write. Losing a parent is always difficult. Anyone who has experienced this loss knows this. My mom and I were especially close. I’ve been losing her slowly over the last nine years to dementia and other assorted physical ills. Still, she knew who I was to the end and I am grateful for that. I dreaded the day when I walked into her room and she looked up at me with a look of confusion and non-recognition on her face. I was spared that heartbreak. One of the last times I saw her, I kissed and hugged her as I readied to leave and told her she was the best Mom ever. She looked at me and said, “I’m your only Mom.” “Yes”, I replied, “but you are still the best.”

I’m sure Mom did not expect the daughter she got. I was a tomboy who loved sports and hated dresses. She was elegant and her accessories always matched. She never made me feel out of place just because I was the only girl playing football and baseball with the neighborhood guys. She had never been interested in sports. She ferried me to high school basketball games and sat on countless bleacher seats to watch me play. She did give me a few dolls at Christmas (which made great hostages in my fantasy adventures where I saved them from disaster). She did make me little dresses (which I insisted on wearing my two gun holster set over). She sighed and let me be me. I will always love her for that simple act of love and acceptance. Not everyone gets this from their parents.

Few parents are prepared to have a gay child. My mom was no different. When I finally came out to her after several trips home and chickening out (My Dad died before I had the courage to tell them both), she knew exactly what was important and was able to brush all other concerns out of the way. She focused on her love for me and the fear of disappointing her she saw in my teary eyes as I told her. Just as she loved the tomboy and the athlete, she loved the lesbian who was her daughter. She gave me the greatest gift a parent can give: She loved me as I am and let go of all the things I was supposed to be or that she may have wanted me to be. She was in my life so completely because I was able to share it with her – both the good and the bad.

At her memorial service, my brother and I both spoke of her sense of humor and told some stories about her irreverence and playfulness that we learned to love as we grew up. I’ve spent the last two weeks since she died looking through old pictures and remembering some of her particular “momisms” as I started calling them. The friends I have who knew her have reminded me of stories about her. We talk and laugh about the woman she was before the fog of dementia closed in on her and robbed her of so much of her personality, humor and playfulness. I cherish all of these memories and am grateful to have friends who share them.

Even as dementia closed in though, there were some days when the fog cleared and her wit was still there. I was visiting her in the nursing home where she lived the last two years of her life. The TV was on. It was an old John Wayne movie called North To Alaska. The 60’s rock n roller, Fabian, had a bit part in the film. When I was in junior high school, I had a big fat thing for Fabian. I had pictures of him all over my bedroom walls. I had all of his albums. I was a member of the Fabian Fan Club. Never mind that Fabian couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket and had no sense of rhythm. I guess it was a sign of my heterosexual impairment.

Anyway, I saw Fabian on the TV and said, “Mom, it’s Fabian! Do you remember him and how I had that big crush on him?” She looked at me, the fog rolled back, and she said, “Yes, and it’s a good thing you have better taste now.”

That’s my Mom. Augusta Scott Griffin, Gussie to her friends, just Mom to me. Mom, I’m glad you are free of the mind and body that were failing you. I am happy you are with Daddy. And I will miss you more than words can express. If the task of parents is to give children roots and wings, rest assured that you certainly did that for me.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

University of Hawaii Football Coach Uses Anti-Gay Slur at Press Conference

Is anyone surprised to hear that a football coach used an anti-gay slur to make fun of an opponent? That’s what University of Hawaii football coach Greg McMackin did at a press conference last week. You can read about it here. Calling an opponent a “faggot” is a time honored tradition in men’s sports. Coaches also use anti-gay and anti-woman slurs to insult their own players into performing better on the field. After all, what could be worse for a man or a boy than to be called “fag” or a girl. Everyone knows they don’t belong in sport, right?

I suspect that Coach McMackin, like way too many coaches, uses this insult in the locker room and on the field with some frequency. I believe this because I don’t think this kind of language is likely to slip out in a press conference unless it is something you say without giving it much thought in other less public contexts. McMackin was trying to be funny, he said later. Fag jokes are always a good laugh, right?

McMackin is not laughing now. This is the part of this story that does surprise me. The University of Hawaii suspended McMackin for 30 days and cut his pay. He is also required to participate in awareness training and take some leadership in training others about the negative effects of anti-gay slurs. Both the university chancellor and the athletic director soundly and publicly condemned his language. The Western Athletic Conference, of which Hawaii is a member, has not decided whether to take action against McMackin. McMackin also made a tearful public apology for his actions at the press conference.

It is encouraging and refreshing that University of Hawaii leaders have taken such strong and immediate action. They set a terrific example for other school administrators whose response to far more egregious violations of university rules, values or policies by athletic personnel is timid or apologetic. It is particularly surprising because football coaches, especially in Division 1 programs, are often so powerful that they are not held accountable for unacceptable behavior for which other school employees are.

Strong administrative action and enforcement of policy are important aspects of successfully addressing LGBT issues in athletics, whether it is anti-gay slurs used by coaches, negative recruiting, firing gay and lesbian coaches or dismissing gay or lesbian athletes from teams. Unless administrators are willing to educate athletic staff and impose sanctions when coaches cross the line, the policies are meaningless.

LZ Granderson
makes another terrific point about this incident by calling the reporters at the press conference to task for their reactions to McMackin. If you listen to the audio of the press conference, you can hear the reporters laughing when McMackin uses the anti-gay slur. They snigger like Bevis and Butthead every time he says it. That’s professional, right?

As a side bar: About 10 years ago, the University of Hawaii changed their mascot from the Rainbow Warriors to the Warriors. At the time, the previous athletic director told reporters that part of the reason for changing the mascot was that the athletic program did not want to be associated with the rainbow flag used as a symbol for gay and lesbian groups. They’ve come a long way at the University of Hawaii and I hope coaches and athletic directors everywhere are watching.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Scary Lesbian Kisses Threaten WNBA Viability

There will be no kiss cams at Washington Mystics games
. What is a kiss cam you ask? It is a ubiquitous practice at NBA games where the TV camera pans the crowd, picks a couple (heterosexual, of course) and projects their image on the Jumbotron. The crowd calls for them to smooch. When they do, everyone cheers. Harmless fun, right?

That is unless the couple consists of two women. Defending the decision to eliminate the Kiss Cam Washington Mystics owner Sheila Johnson cited the “inappropriateness” of women kissing women and the potential for alienating other fans who are largely dads and daughters.

OK, I understand that the WNBA is on somewhat shaky financial ground, especially in this economic climate. I get that WBNA owners and players want to keep fans in the seats. I understand that these factors make them shy away from associating with anything they see as controversial or potentially a threat to the viability of the league.

What I don’t get is the on-going outrageous homophobia and outright disrespect for lesbian fans. What makes me sad is the deep seated internalized homophobia of lesbian fans and players who collude with these heterosexist practices: “We will only be tolerated if we remain invisible, well-behaved, inoffensive, appropriate (and heterosexual people get to decide if we pass this test).”

Hello! Everyone already knows that lesbians play in the WNBA. Everyone already knows that lesbians are a major part of the WNBA fan base. The WNBA needs lesbian players, fans and coaches. If we had a lesbian walk out or boy (girl) cott, the WNBA would really be feeling the hurt. Yet, lesbians in the stands and on the court are expected to be “appropriate” which, of course means shut up, sit down and make yourself as invisible as possible. When will this charade end? Everyone is afraid of offending anyone who is not a lesbian, but apparently lesbians are supposed to take slap in the face after slap in the face and turn the other cheek for more. Enough.

If I had known how powerful a lesbian kiss is, I would have been using it to address some issues I’d like to see changed. Violence against women? Let’s harness the power of lesbian lip locks to scare those perpetrators into submission. A screwed up health care system? Give me some lesbians sucking face, we’ll see if that doesn’t get those guys in congress to act.

I mean, of course, I discovered the power of participating in a lesbian kiss a long time ago, but I had no idea of its potential for affecting hundreds of people at a time by virtue of merely witnessing a good ole dykacious lip smack. If we can clear a basketball arena with just one kiss projected on the Jumbotron, just think what else we could accomplish. Smack! I bet I could always find a parking place. Smack! I could make the Red Sox win. Smoocharoo! I get a place at the front of the line at the bank. Pucker up, baby! I can silence those rude cell phone users in public places – all by deploying the power of my lovely, luscious, lavender, lesbian lips.

I call on all my Sapphic sisters! Rise up! Lick those weapons of mass affection on your face. Pucker up and change the world. Apparently, we’ve been given greater gifts than we ever imagined. Let’s canoodle the world into equality and justice.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Documentary about Lesbian and Gay High School Athletes

Check out this trailer for a new documentary about lesbian and gay high school athletes, entitled Out For The Long Run. In the interests of full disclosure, I get to be a talking head in the film. The filmmakers interviewed me and filmed Dan Woog and I doing a workshop on LGBT athletes with the coaching staff at Mohawk Regional High School here in Massachusetts.

I’m excited because we need good educational tools to work with high schools I think this one could be really helpful. I look forward to seeing the finished product and will post information about it here when I have it. Our It Takes A Team video is getting a little long in the tooth and, though I still think the issues we address in it are relevant, I know athletes who see it get side tracked by dated sports shoes, uniforms and hair styles in the film. When I show it, I encourage them to focus on the issues, not the shoes and uniforms, but I know it would be more effective if we could update the video. That takes money, of course. I hope we can raise the funds we need to make a new video in the next year. In the meantime, I’m excited about this film.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What If He Was Gay? Steve McNair and Double Standards

It is a shame that former NFL quarterback, Steve McNair, died. He was one of the pioneering black quarterbacks in the NFL. He was only 36 years old. He was a role model (at least on the field) for many other young black and white athletes. He was adored by many. Thousands of people attended his funeral and the tributes to him in the media are numerous. He has been lauded as a “hero” and “a legend.”

Steve McNair was shot (several times) by his 20 year old mistress as he was sleeping on the couch in the condo he and a friend owned. She then shot and killed herself, trying to position herself so that she would fall on his lap.

The problem with this sad love affair gone wrong is that Steve McNair was married to another woman and has four children who will now grow up without their father. His pastor and friend cautioned mourners at his memorial service not to judge McNair by “casting the first stone” and to forget how he died and remember all the good things he did instead.

I am all for forgiveness. None of us are perfect and most of us have secrets or past personal indiscretions we are not proud of. Steve McNair could very well have been a “good man” despite cheating on his wife and putting himself before his children.

What is difficult for me is the hypocrisy that the reaction to Steve McNair’s death represents. We are asked to overlook Steve McNair’s adulterous indiscretion and see him as a man of God. I could only wish that fans, players and others who follow men’s professional sports teams could be as accepting of gay athletes who lead exemplary personal lives or even those whose personal relationships are similarly complicated as Steve McNair’s was.

Male professional athletes are often given a pass on bad behavior, even criminal behavior, but a law-abiding, morally upstanding gay athlete? No so much.

Leonard Matlovich was a decorated Vietnam war veteran. He was also gay and fought publicly against the military policy banning lesbian and gay service members. The hypocrisy in the reaction to Steve Mc Nair’s death reminds me of the words on Leonard Matlovich’s tombstone, “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

Felons, adulterers, drug cheats, drunken brawlers, and selfish egotists? Hey, who cares? We love you, man (no homo, of course) . An openly gay male athlete? No way. Not in my locker room. Not on my team.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wimbledon To Assign Courts Based on Anatomical Dimensions

In an effort to stem the tide of criticism over the use of heterosex appeal as a criterion for assigning courts in the women’s side of the bracket, Wimbledon officials have announced new gender equitable criteria for next year. All entrants (regardless of sex or gender identity) over the age of 18 will submit a certified list of anatomical measurements and a full body color photograph taken in a swim suit. The anatomical measurements submitted must be certified as accurate by a physician who will complete the measurements according to a strict protocol approved by Wimbledon officials. The anatomical measurements for competitors in the men’s championship must include shoulder width, chest circumference, height and, of course penis length and girth, at rest and erect. The competitors in the women’s event must submit measurements for body weight, breast size and booty circumference.

Nigel Weinemeyer-Smythe, a spokesperson for Wimbledon, said, “Size does matter and we believe that it should be taken into account for both the men’s and women’s championship. That is the only fair thing.”

As for the photographs, Weinemeyer-Smythe said, “We will appoint a panel of heterosexual judges who will be representative of the audience demographics we target for our championship. They will review the photographs. Their heterosex appeal ratings will be combined with the physical anatomy rankings using a scientific formula to determine which competitors play on centre court and then the ugly, excuse me, less attractive ones will be assigned to the other courts.”

Rumors have suggested that Wimbledon officials have also contemplated changing the required tennis attire to highlight the anatomical assets of the players. “Spandex all around,” chortled Weinemeyer-Smythe. He also said that Wimbledon officials were considering an adjunct competition that would name a king and queen of Wimbledon based on a ranking of all the competitors’ anatomical and photographic submissions. Weinemeyer-Smythe stated, “In the future, we might consider making this competition the focus of Wimbledon and make the actual tennis playing secondary depending on the fan response. "It gets so sweaty, you know.”

Players’ reaction to these changes has been immediate. Betty Breastimplant, who played on centre court this year, despite never having even owned a tennis racket before, bubbled, “With these new standards, I hope to get increased exposure and finally get that photo shoot for Maxim I’ve been after.”

Weinemeyer-Smythe concluded, “We heard the outcry over our focus on the women players’ attractiveness and this is a huge step forward for gender equity in sport. We are so proud that we have taken the lead in leveling the playing field. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, eh what!”

Monday, June 29, 2009

Discrimination in Sport: What’s The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) Got To Do With It?

On June 24, Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank submitted a bill to the United States House of Representatives that, if passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Obama, would prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), as the bill is known, would ensure fair employment practices by making it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or fail to promote an employee based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity (Religious organizations, the military and businesses with a small number of employees would be exempt from the law). The first version of this “gay rights” bill was introduced in 1974 by Representatives Bella Abzug and Ed Koch from New York. Thirty-five years later, prospects for passage of this basic civil rights protection into federal law are much better, and reflect changing societal perspectives on lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender rights.

Currently twenty states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. Twelve of these states also prohibit discrimination based on gender identity/expression. In addition, many cities and towns across the US have similar laws. If it became law, ENDA would be the first federal law extending non-discrimination protection based on sexual orientation.

A version of ENDA that did not include gender identity/expression was introduced in 2007, but was not acted on. At the time ENDA supporters in the legislature believed that they could not pass the bill with gender identity included. The decision to drop protections for gender identity discrimination prompted several gay rights organizations and leaders to withdraw their support of ENDA.

So, what does ENDA have to do with sports? It is a sad and shameful truth that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (or those perceived to be) are still discriminated against in sports. Prospective women coaches are still not hired because they are (or are perceived to be) lesbian or bisexual. Women coaches thought to be lesbian or bisexual are harassed, stereotyped, fired or targeted by negative recruiting by rival coaches.

Male coaches who are gay or perceived to be gay would also be protected by ENDA. Though men’s sports has traditionally been perceived to be a hostile environment for gay men, more gay coaches, administrators, athletic trainers and other staff are choosing to identify themselves. Negative recruiting against male coaches based on sexual orientation is an increasing problem as gay men become more visible in sport.

All lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletic employees need legal protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, not just in twenty states or twelve states, but in all fifty states. That is what a federal non-discrimination law would ensure. ENDA would extend discrimination protection to all states and would provide employees targeted by gender and sexual orientation discrimination with a powerful legal tool equivalent to other federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, national origin and disability.

Passage of ENDA would provide federal protection from sexual orientation and gender identity/expression discrimination for LGBT employees in school athletics: athletic administrators, coaches, athletic trainers and all others who work in athletics.

Supporters of equality in sport for women have a stake in supporting legislation that protects athletic employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. As long as any coach, administrator or other athletic staff member is subject to discrimination based on real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, all are at risk of being targeted by this kind of unfair treatment. Women’s and men’s sport will benefit from ensuring that all athletic employees are able to work in a climate where their achievements are based on their competence and character, not their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to a December, 2008 Newsweek national poll, 87% of the respondents believed that LGBT people should have equal employment opportunity; that includes athletic employment. If you agree, contact your representatives in the U.S. Congress and tell them to vote for ENDA.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Girls, Grunts and Ground Strokes OR Ladies, Loud Noises and Lobs (Take Your Pick)

An article in the Boston Globe yesterday discussed the possibility that the ever so proper tennis establishment is contemplating a new rule banning grunting among the women players. Not among the men mind you, just the women. It would be called a “noise hindrance.” I think it should be called a “violation of the lady code.” Why? Apparently, it is ok for men to grunt when they hit the ball, but for the ladies? No, dear God, no.

And there is the additional issue of the gendered way these “noise hindrances” are discussed. The women’s noises are described as “shrieks,” “squeals,” and “screams.” I’d love to hear someone describe Raphael Nadal’s noise as a “shriek.” It just isn’t manly, you know?

I do get the point that these noises, by men and women, could be distracting for opponents. If I close my eyes while watching Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams play a match, I could mistake it for a remake of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre. However, it is equally disconcerting to hear the men grunting like they seriously need a dose of Dulcolax.

Could you imagine any other sport, other than golf, instituting a rule where competitors can be penalized for making too much noise (I’m sure there are others, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head).

I think the whole thing is silly. Let them all grunt, squeal, snort, scream, snuffle or fart (ok, maybe I take that back). Or stop everyone from making loud noises regardless of their gender. To make a rule that applies only to the women players can only be construed as sexism. And that don’t play with me.

For more on this topic check out One Sport Voice and After Atalanta.